In this regular feature we draw attention to the last week’s law and media news and next week’s upcoming events. If readers have any news or events which they would like to draw attention to please add them by way of comments on this post.
The publication of the Government’s Consultation on a Draft Defamation Bill dominated the media law news this week. The Bill was conceived as a response to a campaign which was supported – though not initiated – by the media and it is not surprising that it was broadly welcomed by the press.
According to the “Daily Telegraph” “The publication of a draft Defamation Bill is an important step towards correcting the flaws in the current law”. Steve Doughty of the “Mail Online” reports the story under the headline “Prove you’ve suffered REAL damage, Clarke tells rich and powerful in shake-up of libel laws” . The Mirror highlights the same point in an article entitled: “Celebrities will have to prove “harm” in defamation cases“: both articles proceeding on the interesting assumption that only “celebrities” sue for defamation. The Financial Times noted that libel reform campaigners want further steps to make it more difficult for large companies to sue for libel.
The Bookseller reported that the “trade bodies” welcomed the Bill – referring to the Publishers’ Association, the Society of Authors and English PEN. Libel reform campaigners were also generally supportive. Leading campaigner David Allen Green had a post on his “New Statesman” blog entitled “The draft libel reform bill is a good thing”. Writing on “Lib Dem Voice”, Dr Evan Harris was more cautious describing the bill as “A good start, but much still to play for.”
The phone hacking litigation continues to gather pace. On Monday 14 March 2011, Panorama broadcast the report of an investigation entitled “Tabloid Hacks Exposed” – which can be viewed on BBC iPlayer. Its most important new claim was that the then “News of the World” Irish editor, Alex Marunchak, had been involved in email hacking. However, on Wednesday, the Press Gazette reported that Mr Marunchak had “robustly denied” the allegations (more on this below).
On Wednesday 16 March 2011, the “Independent” reported that the Metropolitan Police was afraid of the impact of disclosure in civil cases on its criminal investigation. It said that the police had made an application to the High Court in private last week for permission to keep back information which had been ordered to disclose in claims brought by Sky Andrew, Steve Coogan and Andy Gray.
The Chancellor of the High Court has now assigned Mr Justice Vos to deal with all the “News of the World” telephone interception cases. There are fourteen before the courts at present, with “Norwich Pharmacal” orders having been made on Friday 18 March 2011 in two further potential actions, by Tessa Jowell MP and by Lee Chapman, Leslie Ash and their children.
Mr Justice Vos has already given judgments in two “phone hacking” cases (Gray v News Group  EWHC 349 (Ch) and Clifford v News Group  EWHC 221 (Ch)). He gave a third on 18 March 2011. This was in the case of Andrew v News Group Newspapers. The judgment was given ex tempore and a full transcript is not yet available. The judge ordered the police to disclose unredacted documents – including Mr Mulcaire’s emails, address and contacts books, and phone bills. The police had argued that disclosure would undermine “Operation Weeting”, the fresh investigation into hacking which began in January 2011. They also claimed a potential suspect would be “tipped off” if unredacted evidence were made public. The judge rejected that argument, giving the police 28 days to comply with his order and 21 days to appeal. There are reports of the judgment in the Guardian and the Financial Times. We will have a post on this case when the full judgment is available.
The Meejaw law blog reports a presentation by Jaron Lewis, partner at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, to the IBC Legal Defamation & Privacy conference on 15 March 2011 at which he discussed the “Solicitors from Hell” litigation. It appears that 15 cases have now been brought against the website (we have reported on the Farrall, Phillips and Mazzola cases) with four awaiting permission to appeal.
The Press Gazette reports that a Tanzanian businessman, Reginald Mengi is suing a British solicitor Sarah Hermitage in a claim based on publications on her website.
The Press Gazette also reports that West Ham United vice-chairman Karren Brady has issued libel proceedings against the Daily Mirror over stories she claimed linked her to a campaign to undermine manager Avram Grant.
There has been some discussion on Twitter and in the blogosphere about a libel action threatened by Liverpool John Moores University against Robert Halfon MP over remarks he made in the House of Commons about financial links to Colonel Gaddafi. There are posts about the case here and here on the MTPT blog. Mr Halfon is being represented by Preiskel & Co.
The Meeja Law blog has its Mid Week Media Mop Up, unsurprisingly perhaps, entitled “Defamation, Defamation, Defamation“.
Journalism and the PCC
Following the Panorama “Tabloid Hacks” programme (mentioned above), questions have been raised as to whether the BBC uses private detectives and any of the criticised practices in its own investigations. The BBC’s director of editorial policy and standards David Jordan admitted that it does use private detectives “occasionally and exceptionally” but said that he was not aware of any BBC programme ever having commissioned a private detective to carry out illegal activity. His comments on the BBC Editors blog followed an interview in the Sun, in which a private detective who was featured in Tabloid Hacks Exposed on Panorama this week, claimed he had previously worked as an inquiry agent for “Panorama”. There is a report of the story on the Journalism.co.uk site.
The Minority Thought blog has a piece under the title “Should we really have to force newspapers to stop smearing innocent people” dealing with the suggestion that Parliament might be asked to ban the media from identifying people arrested by police in criminal investigations until after they have been charged.
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
We are not aware of any Statements in Open Court this week.
The Liverpool Daily Post reports the settlement of a libel action brought by two Green Party Councillors against a Lib Dem councillor who he had alleged had forced homeless people to sleep in the snow. Cllr Paul Twigger agreed to pay £400 damages and £6,000 costs and to publish an apology in the next issue of the “Focus” leaflet. He agreed to pay the sum in 64 monthly instalments. There is a post about the case on Dale Street Blues blog.
In the Courts
As mentioned above, on Friday 18 March 2011 there was another “phone hacking judgment” by Mr Justice Vos this week in the case of Andrew v News Group Newspapers. A transcript of the judgment is not yet available.
Media and Freedom of Expression Law in Other Jurisdictions
On 17 March 2011, the Supreme Court of British Columbia awarded libel damages of Can$30,000 to former Senator Ed Lawson in a claim against Vancouver Sun business columnist David Baines. There is a news report in the Vancouver Sun.
US Law and Media News
Once again, this will be the subject of a separate post
From the Blogs
The RPC Privacy blog has a post on “harassment by letter writing“, dealing with the recent Court of Appeal case of Iqbal v Manson
There are two more interesting posts on the Strasbourg Observers blog. The first one is entitled, “Aydin v. Germany or the Strasbourg Court’s faint reasoning in a case of political dissent” and suggests that the ECtHR in that case did not pay sufficient attention to the freedom of expression perspective and missed a chance to shed light on the controversial speech issue in this case. The second is entitled “MGN Limited v. the United Kingdom: Naomi Campbell v. the Tabloid Press” which deals with the relationship between privacy and celebrity.
Events and Television
On Tuesday 22 March 2011 there is an event entitled Social Media, online privacy and ‘the right to be forgotten’ at the Westminster Media Forum.
Next Week in the Courts
On Monday 21 March 2011, the Court of Appeal (Master of the Rolls, Leveson and Pitchford LJJ) will hear the appeal against the order of Eady J in Ambrosiadou v Coward ( EWHC 1974 (QB)). The hearing is listed to take place in private.
On Wednesday 23 March 2011, the Court of Appeal will give judgment in the case of Baturina v Times Newspapers – heard on 28 February and 1 March 2011 by the Master of the Rolls, Sedley and Hooper LJJ. The judgment at first instance is at  EWHC 696 (QB).
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
Bowker v Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, heard 21 October 2010 (Sharp J).
Cook v Telegraph Media Group Ltd heard 25 February 2011 (Tugendhat J)
Lewis v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, heard 3 and 4 March 2011 (Tugendhat J)
ETK v News Group Newspapers, heard 10 March 2011 (Ward, Laws and Moore-Bick LJJ)